Climate change due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions is a complex topic and I can understand the hesitation of some to simply “believe” the scientists. For others, it would be tempting to focus on a handful of apparent flaws or gaps in the research in order to distance themselves from responsibility or the need to make changes. Whether you accept the scientific conclusions and estimates or not, hopefully this video can provide what I submit is the most rational perspective.
Mr Craven makes the choice perfectly clear – not between “believing” or “disbelieving” in climate change, but between carrying on without risk-mitigation investment or choosing to essentially take out insurance. I personally go with the latter, and I think it is consistent with how most people go about their business. I’d still prefer to be wrong… but only this way.
I advocate that the investment should be in a widespread expansion of nuclear power to first and foremost replace coal as the world’s primary thermal baseload source. We know it can be done. This isn’t a new idea, but responding to the potential impact of climate change was always going to be an expense, and this keeps the plan very simple. Additionally, nuclear energy potentially mitigates all the atmospheric pollutants which no one denies exist and which kill millions annually, and if the warnings do turn out to be alarmist, then the investment has been in a long-term, economical source of reliable electricity which can and will power industry and innovation.
So there’d be a whole lot more nuclear reactors, right? So now we have a new risk, i.e. statistically increased likelihood of accidents. Yes, but how likely, relative to the consequences of severe climate destabilisation (remember Mr Cravens list?) we may have averted, as well as all the benefits of clean electricity we will enjoy? It’s not spin: in perspective, nuclear is safe. We know what went wrong in each of the three famous accidents. No one is planning to build dangerous old Russian reactors or 2nd Generation PWRs or BWRs. The prioirites now focus on defense in depth and beyond design basis accidents. Given that some of these new plants are 3rd Generation solid fuel reactors then we will certainly increase the stockpile of spent nuclear fuel, but this stuff has been safely contained for nearly 50 years while waiting for a permenent solution; the solution would be part of the climate change mitigation investment, i.e. a 4th Generation reactor fleet. Potentially a mix of sodium-cooled reactors and molten salt reactors, they would be modular and dispatchable, and fueled primarily with all of the “nuclear waste” which no one else appears to have a solution for. (Apart from “don’t make more”. It won’t matter if we do, once we have the solution in place!)
So what is my way?
- Governments must begin setting incentives for domestic nuclear electricity production (through carbon fee/dividend, cancellation of subsidies to fossil fuel sectors, economical licensing regimes, loan guarantees etc). Additionally, they should facilitate international expansion (such as more nuclear in China, and less coal) and enable the IAEA in it’s role. Locally, Australia should assume a responsible leading position in uraniam utilisation/export and nuclear energy in Oceania.
- Fossil fuel use should be incrementally required to internalise all its waste. There are fees and penalties for dumping solid and liquid pollution, why exclude gasses? This will naturally price it out of use.
- Commercialise affordable modular power plants to provide secure electricity in developing countries, under strinct treaty controls where necessary, so that fossil fuels can function in a largely transitional role. Clean power will be fundamentally vital for community and national resilience.
- Prioritise SNF-consuming 4th Generation reactor installations.
- Specialise reactor technology for superscale desalination and industrial process heat: keep agriculture secure with abundant fertiliser and water to insure against disruption by climatic changes, and even begin reclaiming coastal desert.
Synthesise carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels that compete with fossil fuels, which will lead to the diversion of petroleum products away from combustion towards synthetic feedstock.
They’re the main points (let me know if I missed anything vital!). Lot of details to work out, and with all that cheap, clean electricity and heat energy, I guarantee countless applications I haven’t even considered. Personally, it begins to look to me like the difference between being wrong and being right could all be in the weather.